Which Philadelphia Phillies Pitcher Seems Most Capable of Throwing a Perfect Game?

For the one year anniversary of the week of both Roy Halladay’s perfect game and Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game, I thought I would discuss which Phillies pitcher seems most likely to throw a perfect game in any given start.

Roy Halladay is one of two Phillies pitchers in history to have thrown a perfect game (Jim Bunning, 1964 was the other).

Interestingly enough about perfect games, it’s not always the best pitchers who pull off the rare feat. In fact, quite often, it’s any given pitcher who can do it.

Of the 20 perfect games in history, there are four tiers of pitchers who have done it:

Tier #1: Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay

The first five are Hall of Famers, Randy Johnson is a lock, and Roy Halladay is a probable who happened to be the best pitcher in the game at the occurrence of his perfect game.

Tier #2: John Montgomery Ward, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers, David Wells, David Cone, Mark Buehrle

These pitchers aren’t Hall of Fame pitchers but they’re 200-game winner types, guys who have had success for many years in the major leagues.

Tier #3: Len Barker, Mike Witt, Tom Browning

These two are average major league pitchers, much like the Livan Hernandez type in today’s game of baseball. Barker, Witt, and Browning both retired with around 100 wins and a league-average adjusted ERA.

Tier #4: Lee Richmond, Charlie Robertson, Don Larsen, Dallas Braden (Armanda Galarraga)

These four were all below-average pitchers in the major leagues, and Armanda Galarraga, who technically doesn’t receive credit for throwing a perfect game according to Major League Baseball, fits this description.

Of the Phillies’ starting pitchers, Halladay would fit in Tier #1, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels would go in Tier #2, and Blanton would go in Tier #3.

Obviously everyone knows that Halladay has already thrown a perfect game. But I want to know which pitcher has the best chance of doing it from this point on. I could have just narrowed it down to the other four starters, but I wanted to include Halladay and focus for him on whether he could do it again.

Halladay has the stuff to do it again. He’s as focused, driven, and determined as any pitcher I’ve ever seen in my life. The odds of Halladay throwing another perfect game are miniscule, but then again, the odds of him throwing another no-hitter last year were slim, and he did it in his first-ever playoff start.

Cliff Lee is a hit-or-miss pitcher, one capable of striking out 16 batters in a seven-inning stint as he did earlier this year, but also capable of giving up nine hits and three runs as he did in that same game. Lee has never thrown a no-hitter but he certainly has the stuff to do so.

Roy Oswalt has never thrown a no-hitter either, although he actually has been a part of one, as he and five of his Houston Astros teammates combined to no-hit the New York Yankees on June 11, 2003.

I just don’t think Oswalt pitches deep enough into games to pull it off by himself. As I detailed in an earlier article, Oswalt is surprisingly low in average innings per start over the last several years, none more so than this year, in which he is averaging just 5.63 innings per start. Of course he could do it if everything clicked, but the other three aces seem like much more likely candidates.

Cole Hamels is turning into everything the Philadelphia Phillies hoped he would be and he’s had some games in which he is all but untouchable, such as last year’s July 22 start against the St. Louis Cardinals when Hamels pitched eight shutout innings, allowing just a single hit and walk. In that outing, he struck out the first five batters of the game – all swinging – and the only batter of the game to get a hit off of Hamels (Matt Holliday) was promptly wiped out on a double play.

Hamels doesn’t pitch a lot of complete games (just eight in his career, never more than two in a season), but if everything came together for a game, I could definitely see it happening with Hamels.

As for Joe Blanton, realistically he’s never going to come close to a perfect game, but it’s not as laughable as it sounds. Armando Galarraga threw a perfect game (if you want to call it that) last year and he is a borderline major league starter who got designated for assignment by the Detroit Tigers after the season. Sometimes it just all comes together for a guy in a game.

Then again, Blanton is a 30-year old pitcher who might not have the durability to last the whole game. He hasn’t pitched into the ninth inning in two years and he hasn’t thrown a complete game since 2007. Plus he’s on the DL battling an elbow injury so who knows when he will be back and if he’ll be feeling healthy enough.

A perfect game is an extremely rare achievement and most of the game’s best pitchers never do it – Walter Johnson, Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux – but if I had to bet my life that one Phillie pitcher will do it before he retires (and do it again in Halladay’s case), I would go with the Doc, but by a slim margin over Lee and Hamels.

I think all three have the stuff to throw a no-hitter in any given start if they’re on their A game and even Oswalt, who has battled injury problems and family issues this year, is still an elite pitcher who could pull it off.

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